Let us start with the fancy side of the capital Manama, where most expensive restaurants and cafés are located. Café Lilou is a Bohemian place in the Adilya neighbourhood. It has a delightful outdoor area and upstairs balcony, hence, sunset and cold breeze nights are the best moments to invest in there. Coco’s is another similar café, located in the same area. Just a few buildings away, you’ll find a Persian café in an old house with no sign or name, it's essentially a door taking you inside. The interior is Spartan; old but neat, tables, lights and some ancient equipment. They say it’s the only place left from the 50‘s (or the 70‘s) era and has in fact managed to keep it up with competition from new brands. At the back of those cafés are a group of well-hidden Chinese, Mexican, Brazilian, Moroccan and Italian restaurants. Places that enjoy privacy and prestige, where the music, food, service, guests, and location could perfectly bring romance into being.
A few blocks away, you run across crowded spots that mostly serve drinks, hookah and appetizers. Casual places meant for hangouts, popular with those who can’t afford fancy cafés and are still young enough to prefer busy cafés with giant screens and wild music to quiet restaurants. Maggis and Chaise are the most popular among them. They have considerably better quality, and they know how to attract customers by changing themes from time to time. In sessional holidays, and major international events like the world cup, they offer special menus, decoration and a certain dress code for the staff. They also have the specialty of making beverages, competing in inventing new flavours and new styles of drinks that would interest teens. Arizona, Al-Bandeera, and Mid-Cafe are other cafés in the same genre. The streets where such cafés are found are known locally as “Streets of Love”, simply because, right there, flirting is easily noticeable among teens who are escaping an environment which is still conservative on love and relationships.
On a different level, activists, students, freelancers, and those who would like to professionally and semi-professionally meet go to Costa Coffee, a multinational coffee shop that has branches almost everywhere in the country. The place succeeded in developing a work-friendly environment. Starbucks – another multinational brand of coffee shops – on the other hand, is the cosmopolitan place with tourists and expats as regular customers.
But if you seek a stylish atmosphere, you want to go to one of the three art galleries in town; Al-Riwaq, Al-Barih and the recently opened Naqsh. The galleries occasionally host interesting events and boast with artistic and inspiring interior designs. Painters’ and photographers’ artwork are on display. They also invite writers, journalists, and poets to events at their venues.
In contrast, if you’d like to put prestige on the side and simply order whatever you want without worrying about the bill, you should consider traditional cafes. These are mostly crowded with ordinary people who enjoy homemade food and beverages. Having said that, keep in mind that those cafés mainly serve hookah, and non-smokers should rather stay away!